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Stevens County has 25 percent cut in state aid for 2014

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MORRIS, Minn. -- Although the Minnesota legislature added $40 million for county program aid beginning in 2014, Stevens County will see a 25 percent decrease in their state allocation.

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Early estimates provided to the Stevens County Board of Commissioners shorty after the legislative session indicated that the county might see a CPA increase of $50,000 over 2013.

Instead, the certified CPA amount from the Department of Revenue released this month showed that Stevens County would actually see a decrease of approximately $130,000 from the 2013 allocation of $516,232 down to a 2014 allocation of $387,770, County Coordinator Brian Giese told the board Tuesday.

Giese said the county likely saw a decrease in CPA because the net tax capacity of the county increased because property values are increasing -- a key factor in the CPA formula.

"Basically, what it's saying is that you have the capacity to fund your priorities within your property taxes -- that's a political policy set up by the state," said Giese.

"It is quite hard to stomach a $40 million increase in taxes -- I think it could be framed that way -- in order to fund county program aid and then see a reduction in what a particular county is getting," he said.

In 2014, the state also imposed a levy limit on local government. Although the limit has not yet been certified by the State Auditor, Giese said he estimated the levy limit for Stevens County would be between 4 and 5 percent.

On Tuesday, the board also took a look at their first draft of the 2014 budget. However, discussion was cut short when Commissioner Ron Staples noticed an error that left the budget summary about $175,000 short on expenses.

The board will hold a budget work session on Tuesday, Aug. 13 beginning at 8 a.m. to discuss look at a revised preliminary budget and decide how to move forward.

Highway Department to add assistant ditch inspector

Stevens County is looking for an assistant ditch inspector/GIS technician, a revised position in the Stevens County Highway Department.

On Tuesday, the Stevens County Board of Commissioners authorized County Engineer Brian Giese to advertise for the newly-designed position, which will replace an engineering technician in that department.

The board also authorized Giese to advertise internally for an engineering supervisor, a position that has been vacant since a retirement last year.

Giese said the new organization in the engineering department would save about $16,000 over the previous organization (an engineering supervisor and two engineering technicians). The emphasis on GIS and ditch inspection will also help the county move forward with initiatives with the county ditch system, Giese said.

Although supportive of the new job description, Commissioner Jeanne Ennen asked whether the position had been discussed at a prior meeting so the public could be given a chance to comment.

"I feel that by bringing it up and voting on it at the same meeting, it's going to appear that we're trying to push it through and the public doesn't have a chance to comment," said Ennen.

Commissioner Phil Gausman said the restructuring at the Highway Department was discussed at the first July board meeting and a July work session.

"I assume it's public knowledge because some of the phone calls I got yesterday pertained to this position, so I'm assuming the public is aware of it," said Gausman.

The official minutes from the July 2, 2013 board meeting state that Gausman set a work session for July 19 to discuss highway department organization and county ditch inspection.

Three groups make appropriation requests

Representatives from the Stevens County Historical Society, Stevens County Economic Improvement Commission and Stevens County Soil and Water Conservation District presented their 2014 allocation requests to the board Tuesday.

Randee Hokanson and Ward Voorhees said the historical society is requesting a $600 increase, from $59,400 in 2013 to $60,000 in 2014.

Michael Haynes of SCEIC requested a one percent increase for a total allocation of $66,150.

Matt Solemsaas, SWCD district manager, requested an allocation of $110,000, a $27,000 decrease from 2012 when the board increased their allocation to pay for a new truck.

Other business

• The board authorized Engebretson Sanitary Disposal to hire Mark Lee Excavating to provide labor and equipment at the demolition debris landfill in Stevens County. Contractor Dore and Associates will be bringing debris from the old elementary school property to the landfill, but Engebretson's doesn't have the equipment or personnel to move the debris themselves. The cost of the sub-contract will be covered by landfill fees.

• Due to a delay of the penalties and reporting requirements for employers under the Affordable Care Act, the board voted to not to put out a request for proposals for group health insurance until 2014.

• The board authorized Human Resources Director Janet Raguse to send a position for a chief deputy sheriff to be graded for salary requirements. This would be a new position in the sheriff's office, but would be filled by an internal candidate. Sheriff Jason Dingman said a chief deputy would be authorized to make decisions in his absence and provide needed structure in the department.

• The board approved an annual purchase agreement with the West Central Regional Juvenile Center for $19,250 in 2014.

• The county will receive a dividend of $111,267 from the Minnesota Counties Intergovernmental Trust for workers compensation and property insurance.

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Kim Ukura
Kim Ukura has served as the editor of the Morris Sun Tribune since August 2011. She graduated from the University of Minnesota, Morris in 2008 with degrees in English and journalism. She earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 2010. Prior to returning to Morris to work at the Sun Tribune, she worked in trade publishing. 
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